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June 9th, 2011

Discounting Santorum’s Chances In Iowa Would Be A Mistake

By Craig Robinson

Earlier this week, former U.S Senator Rick Santorum official entered the 2012 presidential race.  Santorum, who has made frequent visits to Iowa over the past few years, announced his candidacy in his home state of Pennsylvania before coming to Iowa to campaign.

To nobody’s surprise, Santorum trails in the early polls.  In national surveys, Santorum rates in the low single digits.  In yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll, he registered at four percent, two points behind Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and one point behind Tim Pawlenty.  In the latest Republican presidential poll in Iowa, Santorum wasn’t even included, so it’s difficult to know where he currently stands in the critical First-in-the-Nation state.

Early polling numbers are not worth getting worked up over.  While it’s nice to know where certain candidates stand, these polls are generally popularity contests at this point in the race.  One only has to look at how Sarah Palin’s itinerary affects the polls to understand that point.  Since April, Palin’s poll numbers have jumped by ten percent due to the publicity her bus tour has received.

Out of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, the position that Rick Santorum is in could be the most interesting.  The Iowa caucuses have a long history of socially conservative candidates doing well here.  Pat Robertson earned 25 percent of the vote in 1988, Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes combined for 30 percent in 1996, while Keyes and Gary Bauer were able to garner 22 percent of the vote in 2000.  Besides being strong social conservative candidates, what do all of them have in common?  None of them had held elected office before running for president.

Even though each of these candidates did relatively well in the caucuses, none of them where able to ultimately win.  The only social conservative that was able to do that was Mike Huckabee, who did so in 2008.  Having held elected office before may have been what propelled Huckabee to his first place finish in Iowa.  Another important factor in Huckabee’s victory in the Iowa Caucuses was that the social conservative vote was not split four years ago.

It’s also interesting to note that Huckabee didn’t campaign on a record of accomplishments in 2008.  Instead, he ran an outsider campaign similar to the other socially conservative candidates who had never held office before.   Throughout his campaign, Huckabee focused on why he was pro-life more than he focused on the pro-life bills that he signed into law as governor.

While nobody in their right mind would question Santorum’s credentials when it comes to social issues after hearing his personal testimony, he doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of the socially conservative presidential candidates that have preceded him.  Santorum’s record on these issues are unmatched by any of his current opponents.

In many respects, his title of “former senator” doesn’t do him justice.  In the U.S. Senate, Santorum rose to become the number three Republican in leadership, an impressive feat for someone who at the time was not even fifty years old.  Had he not been defeated in his re-election bid in 2006, Santorum probably would have been considered one of the front-runners in the 2012 race instead of an afterthought.

Santorum breaks the mold of other social conservative candidates because his expertise is not just limited to social issues.  While in the Senate, Santorum championed entitlement reform when he led the Welfare Reform Act in 1996.  He also took the lead on a number of foreign policy issues, making him one of the better-versed candidates when it comes to foreign affairs.

When you look at Santorum’s resume, achievements, and positions on the issues, he stands out amongst the crowded field.  However, his endorsement of Arlen Specter in exchange for the ability to move conservative Supreme Court nominees through the Senate, as well as his 17-point reelection loss, continue to haunt him.

It’s ironic how a candidate who has actually won difficult elections, who has led on the issues that people are the most passionate about, has at times been overlooked in favor of another candidate who has never held office and lost his only attempt at elected office in a primary by a greater margin than Santorum lost his 2006 race.   Still, it’s not the early attention that candidates want, they want to gain momentum heading into the caucuses.

In many respects, Santorum is very reminiscent of Mike Huckabee.  Both are passionate about social and moral issues, and were also able to get elected to statewide office in states that can be difficult for Republicans.  Just as the national media seemed to write off Huckabee at this same time four years ago, the media may be making a similar mistake with Santorum.

At the end of the day when Iowa caucus goers are looking for a full-spectrum conservative to support, Santorum will be in the mix.  With the caucuses being as wide open as they have been in years, discounting Santorum’s chances would be a huge mistake.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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